And into 2000

Each year, I look at what has happened and predict events for the coming year. As 1999 ends, I'll highlight a few trends that started in 1999 and will pick up steam in 2000.

Windows Everywhere
Microsoft's true mission is Windows everywhere. No wonder Microsoft is fighting battles. But on one front, people aren't paying much attention. While the US Department of Justice (DOJ) is inspecting Windows' domination of the desktop, Microsoft is putting Windows into every device you can imagine: servers, set-top boxes, phones, terminals, copiers, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). By most accounts, the market for embedded Windows will be much larger than the load-and-go markets for Windows today. This trend is important for 2000 and beyond.

Windows NT vs. Linux
Another important trend is the competition between Microsoft and Linux, and embedded Windows will be key here, too. The industry expects the market battle to be NT vs. Linux on fat clients and servers, but the real battle between NT and Linux will be over embedded environments.

I saw Wyse demonstrate an embedded Linux terminal, its application service provider (ASP) terminal. This device emulates all major desktop environments, including NT, Windows (using ICA or RDP), X Windows, 3270, and 5250. (Imagine displaying your server-based NT applications on a Linux terminal. I love it.) Within weeks of that demonstration, Microsoft introduced its embedded NT terminal as an alternative to embedded Linux. Microsoft correctly identified embedded Linux as a threat. Unlike the Linux-based desktop OS, a Linux-based terminal doesn't lack applications. And the availability of applications is a strong reason for using NT. The Linux terminal is clearly a viable alternative to a Windows-based terminal (WBT).

One advantage of embedded NT is the embedded Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) browser. I saw a demo of the Dynamic HTML (DHTML) version of Microsoft Outlook (which uses IE), and I had a hard time telling it apart from the Win32 version of Outlook 2000. Internet developers have to make a choice: Develop for a particular browser (IE or Netscape), or choose the lowest common denominator between browsers. If IE continues to gain market share, Netscape will become irrelevant and developers will put IE-specific features such as DHTML into their applications to add functionality. If IE wins, embedded NT terminals have an advantage over Linux terminals.

On the server side, both embedded NT and embedded Linux will compete for the thin-server market. Users will want Plug and Play (PnP) file, print, and Web services. ISPs will want stackable Web servers with built-in replication services. These single-purpose, simple devices will let an administrator quickly build clusters of back-end application servers.

Application Service Providers
Outsourcing has long been a hot topic, so what's the big deal about ASPs? They let you outsource a little at a time. Many of you have a third party hosting your Web server. You get 24 x 7 support and redundant communication lines. And if you have a data-driven Web site, your ISP runs a database such as Microsoft SQL Server for you. Next, you'll think about outsourcing your Web site's e-commerce. Soon, you'll realize you've already been outsourcing to an ASP.

So what's next? Companies such as Qwest are setting up huge, redundant server farms to provide outsourced computing that you can take as much for granted as you do getting a dial tone when you pick up a phone. You'll see ASPs moving into universal messaging (e.g., integrated voice, fax, email, VPNs). So what? You can do that inhouse. Yes, but can you provide 99.99 percent reliability and a fixed cost of $12 per month per user? Can you support users anywhere in the world from any device (embedded, wireless, or wired) at any time? No? Then ASPs will have an advantage in delivering unified messaging.

What about enterprise resource planning (ERP), accounting, and customer relationship management (CRM)? Again, ASPs will deliver these applications to your end users with guaranteed service level agreements (SLAs) and uptime.

Into 2000
Of course, these trends aren't the only ones that will shape our industry in 2000. What do you think will be the major trends in the coming year? Write and let me know.